Posts tagged " Day of Atonement "

Yours, Mine and Our Sins

October 1st, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

But everybody’s doing it.” Is there any parent who has not heard that cry? Perhaps your child wants to go to an inadequately chaperoned party. Maybe a teenager wants to read the latest best-selling book that his or her parents see as morally suspect. No matter the issue, children want to be part of a group.

We adults are susceptible to this desire as well. We buy new clothing and cars so that we ‘fit in’ with a certain crowd; we watch popular movies because ‘everyone’ is talking about them. Sometimes we even vote with our social group rather than researching and making an informed decision.

We are not only influenced by others, but we are also the influencers. When I succumb to complaining, cowardice or anger, I affect my spouse, children, neighbors and co-workers. Contaminated by my attitude, they will be more likely to behave the same way. If I lower my standards and speak rudely or profanely, others will more easily do so as well.

We are in the Jewish High Holy Day period that began with Rosh HaShana and reaches its climax next Wednesday on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time for intense introspection on one’s life, achievements, failures and goals. Simultaneously, it is a time for communal reflection and involvement. When we enumerate our sins on Yom Kippur, each individual has his or her own list, yet the format we recite is in plural language. Sentence after sentence begins with the words “We have sinned…” rather than, “I have sinned.”

Isn’t this strange? Even orphans say, “We are guilty of not appreciating parents.” Even the most upright among us say, “We have stolen.”

This interaction between our unique lives and the larger community is one of the universal messages of Yom Kippur. It is a time to strip away the illusion that we are independent and self-directed and to recognize how much of the wrong way that we think and act is a function of following the crowd. It is a time to recognize our own responsibility not only for ourselves but also for others.  As we take an annual moral inventory, we need to assess with clarity the inescapable intertwining of our lives with the lives of the many different groups of people with whom we share life on earth.

After starkly facing our failings during this period, we emerge from the holy days with optimism and conviction. It is wrong to think of peer pressure only as negative. When we smile despite our pain, we also influence others. When we express gratitude and are gracious to others, the effects of that ripple outward as well. If we are courageous and cling to standards, immune to what ‘everyone else’ is doing, we make it easier for others to do so as well.

This is a good time of year to set the odometer back to zero and reject becoming ensnared in the failings of society, no matter how widespread they are. It is a particularly conducive time to commit to being leaders in exemplifying moral greatness.

Yom Kippur teaches us to work from the inside out, in contrast to tyrants who impose their will on others while indulging themselves. When we change ourselves, we change our families. When we change our families, we change our communities. When we change our communities, we change our country. When we change our country, we change the world.

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A Balancing Act

September 14th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I once had someone working for me in sales.  He was the hardest worker I knew.  He produced the nicest sales graphs—by the dozen.  He drew colored charts of projections—by the dozen.  But he never managed to make any sales.  He was always busy; he just wasn’t doing what he had to do when he had to do it.

Ancient Jewish wisdom offers an annual antidote to this common human failing. 

Many Jews will crowd into synagogues this Friday night and Saturday for Yom Kippur.  The Day of Atonement brings more Jews to worship services than any other occasion.  Even Jews who reveal themselves in public opinion surveys to be among the least religious of all Americans show up at synagogue on Yom Kippur.

There are some Jews for whom this day has become a ceremony marking the passage of time; a sort of Jewish Labor Day announcing the end of summer.

For others, Yom Kippur is the social event of the year at which they get to see old acquaintances.

Other Jews attend high holyday services propelled by guilt and as a last lingering contact with a Judaism that sentimentally links them to their parents and grandparents.

However, there is greater significance to Yom Kippur than these secular, social and sentimental motivations.

This special day celebrates one of God’s greatest gifts without which no society could long survive.  This is the schematic of order and structure. Without it our love of personal liberty would tip us toward civil chaos.

Our society flourishes in its diversity. Some of us specialize in providing food; others offer medical care.  Someone drives the bus or plane you ride, while other individuals build companies.  We can vote, dress and live in totally different ways than our peers. Within the magical environment we call a society each of us can flourish in whatever areas we choose. 

But with all this personal liberty some basic common framework must exist.  Without a shared vision for how society ought to look, one person’s liberty to do that which he chooses soon begins to impinge on another’s ability to live his chosen life.

Perhaps someone’s choice is not to work at all or to turn to drugs or alcohol.  Well that choice impacts everyone else as they are forced to hand over money they would rather spend on their own family or step over an intoxicated form on the sidewalk.  It is almost impossible to make choices that do not impact other people. We are all interconnected.

This produces a tension between personal liberty which we embrace and the need for us all to choose to curtail some of our liberties.

A great secret for both family and business success is learning to balance what we want to do with what we should do.  The Jewish High Holydays, comprising Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, impart the theme of that great balancing act and link it to the astrological sign of this period; Libra, the balancing scales.  The challenge not only for individuals but for society as a whole is to master this balancing act. When better to attempt it than during the Month of the Scales?

Perhaps one spiritual reason that Jews flock to services during these days of awe is to acknowledge that living successfully means accepting restraints.  For a society to survive every right has a matching responsibility; every freedom entails an obligation.  We all need to do what we have to do, when we have to do it.

We need help in setting the right balance in our lives because if enough people make bad choices, it ruins society for everyone.  A connection with God helps us balance our desire to do that which we please with our ability to resist that desire in favor of what is right.  And that can be a powerful magnet for gathering people together once a year.

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